« VorigeDoorgaan »
ON THE GENERAL STRUCTURE OF THE BIBLE AS A
ENOUGH perhaps has now been said by way of opening the subject before us. The state of the case, I conceive to be as I have said. The structure of Scripture is such, so irregular and immethodical, that either we must hold that the Gospel doctrine or message is not contained in Scripture (and if so, either that there is no message at all given, or that it is given elsewhere, out of Scripture), or, as the alternative, we must hold that it is but indirectly and covertly recorded there, under the surface. Moreover, since the great bulk of professing Christians in this country, whatever their particular denomination may be, do consider, agreeably with the English Church, that there are doctrines revealed (though they differ what), and that they are in Scripture, they must undergo, and resign themselves to an inconvenience which certainly does attach to our Creed, and, as they often suppose, to it alone, that of having to infer from Scripture, to prove circuitously, to argue at disadvantage, to leave difficulties, and to seem to others weak or fanciful reasoners. They must leave off their exceptions against our proofs of our doctrines, not being stronger in their own proofs themselves. No matter whether they are Lutherans or Calvinists, Wesleyans or Independents, they have to wind their way through obstacles, in and out, avoiding some things and catching at others, like men making their way in a wood, or over broken ground. If they believe in consubstantiation with Luther, or in the absolute predestination of individuals, with Calvin, they have very few texts to produce which, in argument, will appear even specious. Or how, if Wesleyans, do they prove that the Gospel sanctions an order of ministers, yet allows man to choose them? Where do they find a precedent in Scripture for a self-chosen ministry? or if no mere succession,
and no mere human appointment are contemplated by them, where has the Gospel promised them infallible evidence from God, whom He will have as His ministers one by one? And still more plainly have these religionists strong texts against them, whatever be their sect or persuasion. If they be Lutherans, they have to encounter St. James's declaration, that "by works a man is justified, and not by faith only ';" if Calvinists, God's solemn declaration, that “ as He liveth, He willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should live ;" if a Wesleyan, St. Paul's precept to "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves;" if Independents, the same Apostle's declaration concerning the Church's being "the pillar and ground of the Truth;" if Zuinglians, they have to explain how Baptism is not really and in fact connected with regeneration, considering it is always connected with it in Scripture; if Friends, why they allow women to speak in their assemblies, contrary to St. Paul's plain prohibition; if Erastians, why they forget our SAVIOUR'S plain declaration, that His kingdom is not of this world; if maintainers of the ordinary secular Christianity, what they make of the woe denounced against riches, and the praise bestowed on celibacy. Hence, none of these sects and persuasions has any right to ask the question of which they are so fond, "Where in the Bible are the Church doctrines to be found? Where in Scripture, for instance, is Apostolical succession, or the priestly office, or the power of absolution?" This is with them a favourite mode of dealing with us; and I in return ask them, Where are we told that the Bible contains all that is necessary to salvation? Where are we told that the New Testament is inspired? Where are we told that justification is by faith only? Where are we told that every individual who is elected is saved? Where are we told that we may leave the Church, if we think its ministers do not preach the Gospel? or, Where are we told that we may make ministers for ourselves?
All Protestants, then, in this country, Churchmen, Presbyterians, Baptists, Arminians, Calvinists, Lutherans, Friends, Inde
pendents, Wesleyans, Unitarians, and whatever other sect claims the Protestant name, all who consider the Bible as the one standard of faith, and much more if they think it the standard of morals and discipline, are more or less in this difficulty, the more so, the larger they consider the contents of revelation, and the less the scantier; but they cannot escape from it altogether, except by falling back into utter scepticism and latitudinarianism, or on the other hand going on into Romanism. Nor does it rid them of their difficulties, as I have said more than once, to allege, that all points that are incapable of clear Scripture proof are the peculiarities of each sect; so that if all Protestants were to agree to put out of sight their respective peculiarities, they would then have a creed set forth distinctly, clearly, and adequately, in Scripture. For take that single instance which I have referred to in a former Lecture, the doctrine of the Trinity. Is this to be considered as a mere peculiarity or no? Apparently a peculiarity; for on the one hand it is not held by all Protestants, and next, it is not brought out in form in Scripture. First, the word Trinity is not in Scripture. Next I ask, How many of the verses of the Athanasian Creed are distinctly set down in Scripture? and further, take particular portions of the doctrine, viz. that CHRIST is equal to the FATHER, that the HOLY GHOST is GOD, or that the HOLY GHOST proceedeth from the FATHER and the Son, and consider the kind of texts and the modes of using them, by which the proof is built up. Yet is there a more sacred, a more vital doctrine in the circle of the articles of faith than this? Let then no one take refuge and comfort in the idea that he will be what is commonly called an orthodox Protestant,-I mean, that he will be just this and no more; that he will admit the doctrine of the Trinity, but not that of the Apostolical succession,-of the Atonement, but not of the Lord's Supper, of the influences of grace, but not of Baptism. This is an impossible position: it is shutting one eye, and looking with the other. Shut both or open both. Deny that there is any necessary doctrine in Scripture, or consent to prove indirectly from Scripture what you at present disbelieve.
The whole argument, however, depends of course on the certainty of the fact assumed, viz. Scripture is unsystematic and
irregular in its communications to the extent to which I have supposed it to be. To this point, therefore, I shall, in the Lectures which follow, direct attention. Here, however, I shall confine myself to a brief argument to show that under the circumstances it must be so. I observe then as follows:
In what way inspiration is compatible with that personal agency on the part of its instruments, which the composition of the Bible evidences, we know not; but if any thing is certain, it is this,— that, though the Bible is inspired, and therefore, in one sense, written by GoD, yet very large portions of it, if not far the greater part of it, are written in as free and unconstrained a manner, and (apparently) with as little consciousness of a supernatural dictation or restraint, on the part of His earthly instruments, as if He had had no share in the work. As GOD rules the will, yet the will is free,-as He rules the course of the world, yet men conduct it,- -so He has inspired the Bible, yet men have written it. Whatever else is true about it, this is true, that we may speak of the history, or mode of its composition, as truly as of that of other books; we may speak of its writers having an object in view, being influenced by circumstances, being anxious, taking pains, purposely omitting or introducing things, leaving things incomplete, or supplying what others had so left. Though the Bible be inspired, it has all such characteristics as might attach to a book uninspired, the characteristics of dialect and style, the distinct effects of times and places, youth and age, of moral and intellectual character; and I insist on this, lest in what I am going to say, I seem to forget (what I do not forget), that in spite of its human form, it has in it the spirit and the mind of GOD.
I observe, then, that Scripture is not one book; it is a great number of writings, of various persons, living at different times, put together into one, and assuming its existing form as if casually and by accident. It is as if you were to seize the papers or correspondence of leading men in any school of philosophy or science, which were never designed for publication, and bring them out in one volume. You would find probably in the collection so resulting many papers begun and not finished; some
parts systematic and didactic, but the greater part made up of hints or of notices, which assumed first principles instead of asserting them, or of discussions upon particular points which happened to require their attention. I say the doctrines, the first principles, the rules, the objects of the school, would be taken for granted, alluded to, implied, not stated. You would have some trouble to get at them; you would have many repetitions, many hiatuses, many things which looked like contradictions; you would have to work your way through heterogeneous materials, and after your best efforts, there would be much hopelessly obscure; or, on the other hand, you might look in vain in such a casual collection for some particular opinions which the writers were known nevertheless to have held, nay to have insisted on.
Such, I conceive, with limitations presently to be noticed, is the structure of the Bible. Parts, indeed, are more regular than others parts of the Pentateuch form a regular history. The book of Job is a regular narrative; some prophecies are regular, one or two epistles; but even these portions are for the most part incorporated in or with writings which are not regular; and we never can be sure beforehand what we shall find, or what we shall not find. They are the writings of men who had already been introduced into a knowledge of the unseen world and the society of Angels, and reported what they had seen and heard; and they are full of allusions to a system, a course of things, which was ever before their minds, which was too awful and too familiar to be described minutely, which we do not know, and which these allusions, such as they are, but partially disclose to us. Try to make out the history of Rome from the extant letters of some of its great politicians, and from the fragments of ancient annals, histories, laws, inscriptions, and medals, and you will have something like the matter of fact, viewed antecedently, as regards the structure of the Bible, and the task of deducing the true system of religion from it.
This being, as I conceive, really the state of the case in substance, I own it seems to me, judging antecedently, very improbable indeed, that it should contain the whole of the revealed